Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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What if My Daughter Grows Up to be a Brat...

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Part 1

At four-years-old, Norah was the cutest little girl I’d ever seen. She had flowing thick shoulder length brown hair, a charming little grin, sparkling blue eyes, and cute little skipping legs. She was small for her age, usually two or three inches shorter than her peers, which made her extra cuddly. Her voice sounded like Minnie Mouse mixed with one of Cinderella’s songbirds. Nearly everything about her melted my heart. People were always telling me how cute she was. And it was for good reason. 

But sadly, there was a dark side to Norah. A sinister side that caused her to drop to the ground, scream, and beat her tender little fists and kick her small loveable little feet. She said bratty things like, “I will not hug you unless you give me a cookie,” or “I don’t have to clean my room because I’m cute,” or “I don’t like Tristan because he won’t give me a dollar,” or “Dad! Let me in the freaking car!” or “Mom, I’m getting really frustrated with you!” or “Done! Done! Done!” or “Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to you!” or “I’m a princess from Swan Lake! I can do what I want.”
I often wondered where she picked up some of her lines. Many of them came from Netflix. “Barbie of Swan Lake,” for example, showed Norah a lot about what it takes to overcome haters and become a princess. I told her that Barbie was not teaching her quality life skills, but rather how to be a vapid ditz. Most of the time Norah just rolled her eyes, but sometimes she looked at me with a red angry face, stomped her foot, and said, “Barbie is a princess. Don’t be mean to her.” Most of her lines, however, came from Mel and myself. Particularly the word “freaking,” which is often substituted for the f-word in our home. When I thought about Norah’s bratty lines, I often wondered what else she was picking up from the media, and myself, and how it would impact her future disposition. 

I was an academic counselor at a University. My job was very similar to academic advising, only instead of meeting with my students once a term, I met with them every two weeks. I got to know them really well. Most of my students were low-income, hard working kids, who were eager, intelligent, and excited to be the first in their family to attend college. But a select few of them were entitled little shits, and I often compared Norah to these bratty, upper class college students that I work with. Both walked with a hip swinging swagger, nose a little in the air. I tried to tell myself that Norah did this because she’s short. She had to look up to see people in the face. But I don’t think that was always the case. Once I watched her walk with her nose in the air across an open field. There was not a person in sight. Perhaps she was looking at the clouds. But maybe not. Just like my students, Norah flipped her hair when trying to impress someone, stuck her lips out like a duck when faced with an ugly outfit, and often exhaled, loudly, while rolling her eyes when near someone she didn’t like.
Thanks to Disney princesses, Norah was already starting to wear high-heeled, plastic, bright colored shoes that looked adorable on her little feet. However, if these same shoes were made to fit a grown woman, they’d most likely be listed in the Fredrick’s of Hollywood online catalog. 

I once had a student tell me that she often plays stupid so she can get boys to do things for her: “Once, I acted like I didn’t know how to use Word so a boy would type my paper. He totally did it. He was so pathetic.”
She laughed.
“Really?” I said.  “He was pathetic? That guy is now walking around campus telling his friends that you can’t use a computer. How does that make you feel?”
A few moments after this girl left my office, I felt a little sick because all I could think about were all the times Norah had claimed she didn’t know how to put on her shoes, buckle her seatbelt, or put her dishes in the sink to get out of doing simple obligations.
One of my students was in an emotionally abusive relationship. We talked about some of her previous boyfriends, and I got the impression that she’d had a long track record of dating douchebags. When I asked her why she liked jerks, she said, “I like it when guys are mean to me because, you know, when they do say something nice, like that I’m pretty, I know they’re being honest.”
I was shocked.
I’m not smart enough to say what is wrong with many of these young college girls I work with. Perhaps I’m the only one who thinks there’s something wrong with them. I don’t know if this is nature or nurture. If it’s something they learned by watching TV, or if it's something they learned from their parents and friends. But what I do know is that I want the best for Norah. I don’t ever want her to be in an abusive relationship simply because the guy might give her a few trinkets of sincerity. I want her to be empowered. I want her to be intelligent. I want her to love the people around her. I want her to be tolerant of others. I want her to be the kind of person who rolls up her sleeves and gets shit done, not the kind of person that plays stupid to get out of basic obligations.  A woman who is willing to stick to her guns.
I’d been thinking a lot about Norah and the kind of person she will grow up to be when she asked if she could watch a show called Bratz.

What if My Daughter Grows Up to be a Brat... Part II

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.